Early Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

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Parkinson's Disease is generally considered a disease of late-middle age with the average age of onset at around 60 years. There are cases of "early-onset" Parkinson's disease, but only a small percentage of people under the age of 50, about 5- to 10-percent, will develop this debilitating health condition earlier. 

The cause of the disease is unknown. While some evidence points to genetics, most patients have no known gene abnormality. Certain studies indicate environmental factors may trigger the illness in those with a genetic susceptibility. These factors include exposure to pesticides and herbicides, especially for those living in a rural area, drinking water from a private well, or working on a farm. But even these studies aren't conclusive.

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

You can attribute the symptoms of Parkinson's to a deficiency of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. The four classic motor symptoms of Parkinson's include:

  1. Shaking, twitching, and tremors
  2. Moving slowly, known as bradykinesia
  3. Unusually rigid or stiff muscles in your face, neck, legs, or other muscles
  4. Difficulty maintaining your balance

Shaking, twitching, and tremors while you are resting is typically the first sign of Parkinson's disease, but about one-third of patients won't experience those symptoms. These symptoms tend to be worsened by emotional and physical stress. Sleep or moving can help reduce these issues.

Parkinson's disease is both chronic and progressive with symptoms generally getting worse as time goes on. As it progresses, other disabilities can develop, including:

  • Difficulty talking and swallowing
  • A sudden inability to move, called "freezing"
  • Decreased dexterity and coordination making it hard to complete daily activities, such as dressing yourself

Some sufferers also have symptoms that don't affect their motor skills, including:

  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and memory loss
  • Loss of smell
  • Trouble sleeping, including thrashing and other sudden movements
  • Change in blood pressure

Some Parkinson's Treatment Options

Parkinson's disease has no cure, but there are treatment options to control your symptoms and improve your quality of life which include:

  • Medication. Levodopa and other medications, including the Neupro patch, increase the dopamine levels in your brain. Unfortunately, their efficacy may decrease over time and you might experience side effects. 
  • Physical therapy is a usually part of your treatment plan and can improve your speech, balance, and ability to do daily tasks. 
  • Deep brain stimulation is a surgery performed by a neurosurgeon, but it may have consequences. Some patients experience an improvement in motor symptoms while their non-motor symptoms, such as depression, get worse. 
  • Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that may help sufferers regain some of their balance and strength, as well as decrease the risk of falling. Dance, such as a Zumba, may also help.

Many treatment options for Parkinson's are most effective when used in conjunction with others such as taking medication and doing physical therapy.

Possible Risk Reduction Factors

While age, genetics, and being a man make it more likely you'll develop Parkinson's disease, some factors make it less likely. It is generally believed that Asian-Americans and African-Americans seem to have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's as compared to Caucasians. Drinking coffee may lower risk, as a 30-year study of Japanese-American men found the greater amount of coffee they drank, the lower their risk of Parkinson's disease became. 

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Article Sources

  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center: Parkinson's Disease.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center: Parkinson's Disease (2012).